Assessing Preconceptions Students have about Seasonal Change

scienceteachermamaAsking Questions and Defining Problems, Cause and Effect, Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), Earth and Space Science, MS-ESS1: Earth's Place in the Universe, Patterns, Seasonal Change Unit, Stability and Change, Systems and System ModelsLeave a Comment


thinker pictureI start this lesson with some warm up questions on the board:

  • What are the seasons? Are they the same everywhere in the world? Explain.
  • What causes the seasons?

We do a think, pair, share with these questions to begin discussions. All answers are accepted. I worked in a school with students from all over the world so the responses were very interesting and gave all students a different perspective then the traditional Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter season explanation they knew so well. For example, some of my Nigerian students commented that there was no winter there. These observations lead to a discussion debating how we even define the word season. What does it mean?

Then I pass out the two pre-assessments. This will take 2 class periods because we discuss the responses after they are finished. I do not tell students the correct answers but tell them that these are the main ideas we will be investigating for the next few weeks. I collect the responses and put them in the file folder (1 for each student) that I’ve had set up since the unit began. This is because part of the final project instructs students to analyze how their thinking changed throughout the unit and what strategies they used to help them learn. They are also useful as a formative assessment for me to make decisions on how I will teach the rest of the unit. 


  • Quick Teacher PD video from the Smithsonian Science Education Center: Tis the Reason for the Seasons 
  • Pre-assessment part 1 source. Since I can’t seem to find where you can purchase this resource anymore or download it, I scanned it into a word document. assessment part 1
  • Pre-assessment part 2 assessment part 2
  • Full seasonal change unit 
  • Throughout the seasonal change unit I conduct what I call “group quizzes”. The questions on the quiz come from this website: is an excellent free resource for understanding misconceptions students hold and for creating formative assessments that gauge whether my students truly understand the specific content the lessons were designed to teach. Here is a quote from the website explaining the types of questions on the test:The items and other resources available on this site were developed by AAAS Project 2061 with funding from the National Science Foundation. The items are different from most multiple choice science test items in that they:
    • assess students’ conceptual understanding, not just facts and definitions,
    • test for common misconceptions and alternative ideas students have along with their correct ideas
    • are precisely aligned to the science ideas they are intended to test”

    In groups of 2-3, students answer the questions on loose leaf paper but will only get credit for the correct response if they include evidence that supports their response. For example, “Choice A is correct because…….” If they can’t find evidence to support their choice, then their choice is probably wrong. They can use any resource available to them in class that we use to gather evidence: the models, graphs, maps, textbook, and websites we viewed in class. The quizzes provide opportunity for students to engage in argument from evidence (which they love to do) while at the same time I get to move from group to group to address misconceptions.

  • The book series Uncovering Student Ideas is another valuable resource I use for formative assessments and to encourage students to engage in argument from evidence.  This particular book includes specific topics applicable to the seasonal change unit.



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